Pre-Series Notes: Blue Jays face Justin Verlander for the first time since 2019 no-hitter, thoughts on Jordan Romano, and more!

After taking two of three from the Red Sox at Fenway Park, the Blue Jays will head to Houston to face an Astros team who, like them, hasn’t hit their stride just yet.

The Astros kicked off their season by taking three of four games on the road against the Los Angeles Angels and then they earned a split in Arizona with the Diamondbacks. Since then, Houston has dropped back-to-back three-game series against the Seattle Mariners and Angels.
Houston’s starting pitching has been enigmatic and their offence has largely been dragged along by just two or three hitters. Sound familiar?
The Astros let Carlos Correa walk in free agency in the off-season, so you’d expect their lineup to have a big hole in the middle, but Jeremy Pena has filled in seamlessly. The 22-year-old has gone 12-for-39 with a pair of dingers over the first 11 games of his big league career. Pena, Yordan Alvarez, and Alex Bregman have been the three hitters carrying Houston’s offence early in the season as the rest of their bats have yet to wake up.
The Blue Jays struggled with the Astros last season, winning just two of six meetings between the two teams. Tho …

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Author: Cam Lewis / Blue Jays Nation

Max Ellis looks back on first week since joining the Maple Leafs organization

After three years at Notre Dame, Max Ellis took a chance and signed a two-year entry level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs that begins next season.
The 22-year-old finished his final season in college, scoring 16 goals and adding 12 assists in 39 games — all while also being a Hobey Baker nominee back in January.
“I think what I bring is speed and a little offensive ability,” Ellis said in regards to what he brings and what he wants to improve on. “I think I need to work on just playing tight, playing in the middle, just playing in traffic. We did something like that today (Wednesday) with working with pucks along the walls and playing in battles one-on-one, so I think it’s been incredible. I mean, the resources here are fantastic and I think it’s going to be great for my game.”
After signing a contract with the Maple Leafs that begins next season, Ellis joined the Toronto Marlies on a PTO for the rest of this year. There’ll be an incredible amount of development time for the 22-year-old.
He said that was a big part of why he chose to sign in Toronto.
“I think that’s a big part of it,” Ellis said about development. “The other pa …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

Maple Leafs’ Muzzin and Campbell ‘less than 100 per cent’, Kallgren to start vs. Sabres

Three games removed from his return to the ice following his second concussion of the season, Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Muzzin will sit out of the team’s next game on Tuesday at home to the Buffalo Sabres.
“He’s dealing with some right now not related to what he just returned from but he’s dealing with something again,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice on Monday. “He’s less than 100 per cent here and needs a couple of days to settle down a little bit. He’s not going to play tomorrow, but we’re hopeful and expecting he’ll be available after that.”
Muzzin was a full participant during practice. He skated as the seventh defenceman as Toronto experimented with new defensive pairs.
Morgan Rielly skated on the top pair with Timothy Liljegren. They last skated together at the 2022 Heritage Classic on Mar. 13 against the Sabres. TJ Brodie will play with Justin Holl. The middle pair has had some success working together when Brodie was first moved off of the right side to play on the left, the same as his shooting side. Mark Giordano will skate with Ilya Lyub …

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Author: David Alter / The Leafs Nation

Looking at what the Blue Jays lost in the off-season and what they gained

The Blue Jays lost three key players in free agency from last season’s 91-win team: Robbie Ray, Steven Matz, and Marcus Semien. They replaced those three players with Kevin Gausman, Yusei Kikuchi, and Matt Chapman.

The general consensus I have seen seems to be that overall the team is better as they will have full seasons from José Berríos, Alek Manoah, a healthy George Springer, and fewer question marks in the bullpen, but the three new players aren’t quite up to the same level of who they are replacing.
Which makes sense — it’s incredibly difficult to replace a Cy Young winner and someone who finished in the top three of MVP voting. Let’s dive into it and see what the numbers say.
We’ll start with how these players performed last season…
2021 Season
IP
ERA
FIP
K/9
BB/9
WAR
Robbie Ray
193.1
2.84
3.69
11.54
2.42
3.9
Kevin Gausman
192.0
2.81
3.00
10.64
2.34
4.8
Steven Matz
150.2
3.82
3.79
8.60
2.57
2.8
Yusei Kikuchi
157.0
4.41
4.61
9.34
3.55
1.1
Ray is underrated by FanGraphs version of WAR. It’s a FIP based WAR so Ray doesn’t look as good as Gausman does, despite their stats being pretty similar. Per Baseball-Reference WAR, Ray has the edge 6.8 to 5.2. Given the ballparks Ray pitched in and the competition he had to face, it’s not a hot take to say Ray had the better season. That’s not to discredit what Gausman did. He had a tremendous season in his own right, and finished sixth in NL Cy Young.
With Matz and Kikuchi it’s a tale of two halves. Matz didn’t have a great first half of the year, likely due to pitching in minor league ballparks. His first-half ERA was 4.72, and threw July it was 4.58. Once the Blue Jays returned to Toronto Matz was incredible with an ERA of 2.69 in August and September. The poor first half masked some of his success in the second half, but overall he was very good and his production will be difficult to replace. Kikuchi was just the opposite. He had a strong first half pitching to a 3.48 ERA and was the Mariners representative at the All-Star Game. He then fell off a cliff in the second half of the season. He p …

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Author: Paul Berthelot / Blue Jays Nation

Pre-2022 Blue Jays Top Prospect Countdown – No. 6: Spencer Horwitz

In 2018 and 2019, the Jays found three prospects chosen in the 20th round or later who could impact the major league roster in a few years. Vinny Capra went 20th in 2018 and Nick Fraze went 22nd in 2019. Two rounds later, the Jays drafted their 6th best prospect, Spencer Horwitz

Other than Horwitz, name me a Blue Jays first baseman in the system who could potentially back up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Personally, I can’t come up with one. I’ve written about Spencer before, mainly focusing on his 2021 season. However, I’ll go further in depth about his career as a whole.
Background:
As mentioned earlier, Horwitz, a left handed batter, was drafted in the 24th round of the 2019 draft. This could be because his college stats didn’t jump off the page. He slashed .288/.387/.850 in three seasons with Radford University. However, through his three years at the school, you notice a trend starts to appear.
In his freshman season, he walked 23 times and struck out 32 times in his 206 plate appearances. He followed that up with 34 a piece in his sophomore season in 2018. In his last season, his junior season, he walked 45 times while only striking out 29 times.
In his first professional season, he slashed .330/.395/.866 with three home runs with the FCL team. His BB% sat at 9.9% wh …

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Author: Brennan Delaney / Blue Jays Nation

2022 Olympics: Potential NHL Free Agents to Watch in Group A

This is part three of a three part series on u27 players at the Olympics who might have a future in the NHL. Here’s where you can find parts one and two. There’s 10 players I wanted to highlight in Group A, including 2 Leaf prospects. Everyone else is free to sign with any NHL club at any time, and the Olympics will be their opportunity to show those clubs why they should be signed.
The situation for USA and Canada is well documented, their best players are in the NHL and not available for the Olympics. The US drew from a wealth of talent in the NCAA, but the step up in competition is much bigger for them than players in the top European pro leagues. It will be interesting to see how quickly they adjust to the big ice too, as 14 of their players come from the NCAA. Canada has more hockey talent scattered across the globe than anyone else, but much of them are depth players for their European teams rather than first liners. One reason is that many Canadians who are just shy of NHL quality will remain in the AHL on NHL contract, and are ineligible for the Olympics. Canada still brings a strong team, but there just isn’t the high end talent that we’ve come to expect from hockey’s founding nation.
Germany won’t find any easy roads to the gold medal game this time around, I feel that they brought an overall weaker roster than 2018. Much like Switzerland, Ger …

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Author: Earl Schwartz / The Leafs Nation

Leo Komarov leads Finland to victory on day three of Men’s Olympic Hockey

It’s day three of Men’s Hockey at the Olympics and there were a few interesting games on tap.
Four to be exact.
The Russian Olympic Committee took on Denmark, Czechia faced off against Switzerland, Sweden played Slovakia, and Latvia went up against Finland. Although it’s not either of Canada or USA on the schedule today, there was still a lot of fun that went on.
ROC vs. Denmark
Let’s start off with the earliest game in Beijing and the first game of the night on the eastern seaboard.
With a full squad of KHL players, the ROC is one of the favourites to win this event. They won gold back in 2018 and they definitely are coming in wanting to secure the same result this time around.
It was a tight first game for the ROC who just beat Switzerland 1-0. This game, more or less, had the same feeling.
The ROC had a 1-0 lead heading into the third period and were looking to close the game out early, but couldn’t. Denmark’s late push was silenced as former Maple Leaf, Kirill Semyonov potted an empty-net goal.
With a loss, that places Denmark in second in Group B, only behind the ROC, who has won both their games so far.
Czechia vs. Switzerland
After giving the ROC a run for their money in the f …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

2022 Olympics: Potential NHL Free Agents to Watch in Group B

This is part two of a three part series on u27 players in the Olympics that might have a future in the NHL. There’s 8 players in Group B I wanted to highlight, including 1 Leaf prospect and 1 draft eligible. The remaining 6 are not on the reserve list of any NHL club. My goal here is to highlight why NHL teams might be interested in these players, as there was a handful of players at the 2018 Olympics who went on to find success in the NHL. Since most u27 players are bound by the ELC system, they can be added to NHL rosters for under $1m.
Russia and Czechia are the powerhouses of the group, brining exciting teams and hoping to medal. Switzerland brought a comparatively weaker team than in past years, in my opinion. Denmark‘s roster has a large contingent of players from the IceHL and native Denmark league, which are a large step down from the KHL, SHL, Liiga, NLA, DEL, and Czech leagues.
Russia
As I mentioned in yesterday’s piece on Group C, Russia brought a really young team. 13 of their players are drafted and on an NHL reserve list. 18 of their players are under the age of 27. They have one player that will get more NHL offers than anyone else in this Olympics, and that’s Andrei Kuzmenko.
-Update: Kuzmenko has been …

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Author: Earl Schwartz / The Leafs Nation

Does Raptors big Khem Birch fit well long-term with Toronto?

Does Raptors big Khem Birch fit well long-term with Toronto?

The Toronto Raptors might have three centers on the roster at the moment, but they are still going to use the trade deadline as an avenue with which they can explore all sorts of potential trades. One of the main reasons they are headed down this path is the declining play of Khem Birch. A […]
Does Raptors big Khem Birch fit well long-term with Toronto? – Raptors Rapture – Raptors Rapture – A Toronto Raptors Fan Site – News, Blogs, Opinion and More

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Author: Mike Luciano / Raptors HQ

Raptors Game Tonight: Raptors vs Bulls Odds, Starting Lineup, Injury Report, Predictions, TV Channel for Feb. 3

Raptors Game Tonight: Raptors vs Bulls Odds, Starting Lineup, Injury Report, Predictions, TV Channel for Feb. 3

The Toronto Raptors have won three straight games and four of their last five, though none of them have come easy. The latest Raptors odds believe that Toronto will once again go right down to the wire against one of the best teams in the league given how successful they were last week. Toronto will […]
Raptors Game Tonight: Raptors vs Bulls Odds, Starting Lineup, Injury Report, Predictions, TV Channel for Feb. 3 – Raptors Rapture – Raptors Rapture – A Toronto Raptors Fan Site – News, Blogs, Opinion and More

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Author: Mike Luciano / Raptors HQ